“You are always beautiful to me,” my 8-year-old son said as he sat beside me. In response to my now piqued attention, and with finality, he concluded, “…because you are my mother.” I could tell he was angry at me. Whenever he’s angry or disappointed, he prefers to say something positive.
It was the first time anyone had called me beautiful.
As I reflected on his words, on his unconditional acceptance, and his realization that I could not smile as much as he wanted, I instantly became aware of the problems with my upbringing.
There were no positive words for me at any time.
I lacked love and this impacted me in many ways. I could not expect love, so I did not put myself “out there” for love. I expected rejection, so I approached situations from an aggressive standpoint. I didn’t think I was important, and therefore I neglected myself. I was an overachiever, always aiming for unattainable perfection – and I was often disappointing myself. This beat my self-esteem to death.
My mother brought us up alone, having broken up with my father before I was born. This is perhaps what made me the center of her negative vibes. I worked harder than my siblings, but I was beaten for their mistakes.
I was cooking by the time I was nine, which rewarded me with an unfair share of cuts and burns. I lacked basic health care, often left to heal on my own when I had accidents – such as the scald on my belly from boiling water. The scar is still there, a reminder of my not so rosy childhood.
I was consistently trying to be better so that she could love me, but she could not. The bar was always raised half a point beyond what I aimed for. Yet I had no guarantees about what to aim for; only subtle suggestions.
It keeps you going, thinking the rejection is your fault.
Though I did well in school, my mother congratulated everyone except me. If someone else said I’d done well, my mother always said they were only jealous of my success. In every blue picture I drew, she managed to find a black dot. That black dot made me unworthy.
I found healing when I started interacting with healthy adults and people who accept me for who I am. I discovered respect, boundaries, and hugs – things I’d never thought existed, at least not for me. I’ve sought counseling to heal my bruised emotions so that I don’t take out my past on my sons and hurt them in the process.
As I’ve interacted with others, I’ve discovered that parental dysfunctions are widespread. They range from outright hatred to occasional physical and emotional abuses, as in my experience. Compared to some cases, I had it easy; my mother didn’t call me names or shout at the top of her voice.
My son taught me that I am lovable, that I am important. I’ve learned that love is not earned. It is given freely. It’s one person deciding to love another, not expecting them to work for it.
Now, I have a reason to wake up, breathe, and be the best I can be. Every day, I make a conscious decision to give love to my children because I know they need it. And indeed this makes them confident and productive individuals. It also gives them something to share with others.